Radio Station KFKD

handmade greeting card, collage art, HitchcockI had a difficult day yesterday.

The floor fell out of my little stable platform and the bipolar elevator rocketed into the basement.  Wham!  Just like that, in the middle of doing laps at the pool, I turned my head for air and nearly choked on a sob.  I had to stop and clear my goggles before I could go on.

It happens like that sometimes.  With rapid cycling, a person never knows how the next episode will present itself.  I’m always surprised.

I’m living an antithetical life, the twist in my brain said.  All my energy is focused on negativity—not doing things instead of living and doing.  What kind of a shit-hole existence is this?

I couldn’t shake this nihilistic mindset.  I spent most of the day in bed.

Change is hard for anyone.  Geneen Roth in her book Women, Food and God says this about change:

The biggest obstacle to any kind of transformation is the voice that tells you it’s impossible.  It says:  You’ve always been like this, you’ll always be like this, what’s the point.  No one ever really changes.  Might as well eat [or spend money, or do whatever it is you’re trying to change].  By the way, have you taken a look at your arms recently?   And excuse me, did you forget to put on makeup or is that what you look like when it’s already on?  Why do you even bother?  And did you just say what I think you said to your boss?  Who are you, Queen of the Universe?  How many times do you have to fall flat on your face before you learn to keep your mouth shut?

Anne Lamott calls it Radio Station KFKD.  [Geneen Roth] calls it The Voice…. The Voice feels and sounds so much like you that you believe it is you.  You think you are telling yourself the truth.

RadioAnd if Radio KFKD is loud for neuro-normals, imagine how loud it gets for us neuro-diverse folk as we try to address compulsive behavior or add healthier activities into our routine.  Even when I recognize the propaganda coming across those air waves as doo-doo, that doesn’t stop the transmission.  When I’m brain-sick, more transcievers pop out of my mental landscape and boost the signal.  The genius of propaganda is that even when it’s identified, it can still sniff out the tiniest crack and infiltrate like smoke.  Or DDT.  And like Geneen Roth said, pretty soon I think I’m telling myself the truth.

I still get suckered.  That’s part of mental illness.  But, I’ve also developed a pretty good doo-doo filter.  It might take a while to sift out the choicer pellets, but eventually they show themselves for what they are.

Toward evening, the lead weight of the depression lifted enough for me to realize that Radio KFKD had taken over my thinking.  I am not spending all my time not eating.  I’m working on a practice my therapist gave me for increasing mindfulness.  The mantra is Start with One Serving.  Prepare one serving.  Enjoy one serving.  If I want more, I can have it.  But, again, just one serving.  This makes me pause.  It makes me wake up a little from my normal food-haze.  Pausing and waking up are the only ways I’m ever going to change this behavior.  And it’s hard.

I’m not using all my energy to not spend money.  I am paying off my debts.  This is a fine and responsible goal.  I have less discretionary funds now in order to reach that goal, but eventually those debts will be gone.  I will have done something amazing, and new, and difficult.  And then I’ll have a little more money to work with again.

I had a difficult day yesterday.  But just as fast as the elevator plummeted, it rose.  That’s also the deal with rapid cycling—Radio KFKD switches off like magic sometimes.  I was back in the pool this morning, doing my laps.  And I didn’t need to clear my goggles once.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 19

One of the main reasons I went to Pittsburgh was to get my teacher’s input about the next step in my spiritual work.  As I journaled on my way out there:

It’s more than being on the road and on my way to Melanie.  I’m fine.  I haven’t had an episode in three weeks.  That’s a new record.  Truly.  What’s happening?  Are the drugs finally out of my system?  Has my brain started to manufacture the chemicals it needs again?  Is my practice working?  Is it the energy of the group coming together?  Is it the work with the Gratitude Journal?  Could it be possible, can I dare imagine, that maybe now I can actually work on the food compulsion?

Melanie and I discussed the nature of compulsion, how it’s the complete absence of Will.  She suggested I read about Will from authors like P.D. Ouspensky and G.I Gurdjieff to get a sense of what compulsion is not.  And, like Geneen Roth, Melanie believed many clues to riding the compulsion will come from attending the sensation of it in my body.  Where do I feel the drive to eat in my body?  Does it rise and fall?  Does it expand and contract?  Does it have edges or boundaries?  Does it change as I bring attention to it?

I thought I had come a long way in paying attention to my body, but I realized I’d just begun.  Now it’s time to let my body be in control.  My job is to pay attention to the signals and give my body what it wants.  I love ice cream, but it gives me diarrhea.  My body is telling me something.  I love coffee, but it makes my stomach bloated and gassy.  My body is telling me something.

Another piece came to me one morning as the group sat in meditation.  I became aware of my body as separate and also part of the group.  I was Group.  In that state, the Group Will became accessible to me, something more subtle and more powerful than my little will.  I realized that to work with my compulsion I would have to connect with and call on this larger, higher Will.  This was a key piece for me.  As with any Twelve Step Program, the process of relying on a Higher Power opens up the psyche to all manner of possibilities.  What my little will cannot do, a larger Will can.

When I came home, I looked at habits and practices that set me up to ignore my body and went about making some changes.  For the past few days, I’ve sat in meditation before making supper, getting in touch with the Group Will and concentrating on the signals my body sends me.  I make choices on what to fix based on those signals, then check in several times in the evening to see if my choices were received well.  I’m finding that the signals are very clear.  I’m also finding that it takes energy and my little will to keep making good choices, though I can sense the greater Will at work weaving a new matrix.  My intent is to keep reinforcing this new pattern for three weeks until it becomes habit, then continue to draw on Group Will to maintain it.

That’s my plan.  We’ll see what happens.

Window of Power

My Bipolar Geiger Counter is in the green—no clicks after a radioactive week.  But my eating is still nuclear.

This is my lifetime pattern.  When I swing into full-blown mania or depression, nothing can stop my binging.  Then, when the episode ends, I get carried along on the momentum, craving all the addictive foods I fell back into, continuing to eat like a starving person.

This is the place where consciousness makes all the difference.  This is the place where I can choose to pick up Geneen Roth’s Eating Guidelines and actually follow them.  The interval right after an episode is where I believe I can make a real change in my life.  It’s my window of power.

Even though I’ve practiced meditation and bringing awareness to my life for a decade now, I’m only beginning to understand the dynamic of consciousness in relation to my bipolar disorder.  First I learned to create an Observer, that objective part of me who can stand apart from the emotional and mental turmoil to simply watch without judgment or agenda.  It takes effort and willingness to do this work.  It takes practice and persistence.

Only recently did I realize how much delusion plays a part in this process.  I know the illness twists my thinking, but I never considered that it might twist my Observer.  The clarity I’ve been developing all these years might have sand traps in it.  My spiritual teacher brought this to my attention as a possibility, something to consider and watch for.  It made me wonder what else might be in play that I’m not aware of.  I wonder if there are Great Lessons to be learned by finding the sand traps.

I don’t know how to do that.  I’m making this up as I go along.  But it seems like the best place to start is at my edge.  And my edge is food.

So, today I’ll draw on all my resources—my intelligence, my management skills, my creativity, my compassion, my awareness—and bring them to bear on how I eat.  I want to slide off the momentum of this last episode, break the pattern.  Action is required, though I’m not sure what.  Openness and receptivity feel like a key element, too.  This is all uncharted territory.

I’m on a Great Adventure.


I’m managing.

And suddenly, I’m not.

Bam!  The pain overpowers me.  Rational thought scatters.  Awareness shrinks to a tiny hole.  At my chiropractor’s office I lay crying into the face slit of his treatment table, pinned there by acupuncture needles, trampled by runaway despair.  I focus on the snot stringing from my nose, the tissue paper on the table sticking to my wet face, anything but the flood of emotion—that sickening sense of drowning.  I try to stay present, to surf instead of sink.  What should I do next?  How do I get through this day?

But the roar of the flood is deafening.  I can’t hear myself think.  A plan forms and smashes against the rocks.  I can only grab at wreckage as it slams past.  Nothing will work, I think and immediately know that’s not true.  Hold on, I hear my friend Lily’s voice say.  How do I hold on?

Oblivion is the only answer.  Find something louder than the storm, something that will push it into the background.  I drive across the street to the movie theater and stay there all day.  Super 8 pushes the noise back, and I sink into the story.  Sweet, exhilarating, new.  Then, I wait in the bathroom for a few minutes and sneak into X-Men: First Class.  Again.  I want it again.  I know what to expect, but I want the bits I missed.  I see more, hear more.  Swallow it like food.  The noise in my head and my body stays quiet, acquiesces to the story, the images, the thundering explosions, the music.

When it ends, I hurry out, focused on not getting caught, but in the parking lot the flood screams back in.  I sit in my truck and clutch the steering wheel, sobbing, hanging on, waiting for a break in the storm, a chance to pull a thought out of the chaos.  What next?  What next?

I drive to Tom and Cheryl’s for supper with their family.  I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.  But, I do.  Tom greets me, asks me if I’ll take care of the dogs while they’re away this weekend.  Of course I will, but in my mind Dogs, Care, House fragment and skitter away.  “Write it down for me,” I tell him.  “I can’t think today.”

I sit out in the front room, away from the noise of HGTV, away from Cheryl’s silence that I’m turning into a slight.  I try to read Geneen Roth’s new book about compulsion.  She says:

Obsession is a form of autism, a way to cover our ears and block out the background noise, a way to protect ourselves when the situation feels vulnerable or dangerous or anxiety producing.  Obsession is a way to change the channel when you don’t like what’s barreling across the screen of your mind.

Maybe, I think.  But what if you have to change the channel to survive?

At those moments, my life belongs to the unconscious associations I’ve made, the particular way my psyche has equated love with buying, stillness with despair.  Survival trumps good intentions every time.  When the imperative to shop (or eat or drink or take drugs) takes over, nothing else exists.  It’s why diets don’t work, budgets get thrown out, credit-card debt keep accumulating.  The momentary imperative of survival will always, in every situation, hijack long-range perspective.

…the only way through [the imperative] is awareness itself.  Which means that instead of reacting in the same ways to the same needs, I begin widening the perspective.  I realize I have other choices… It takes time.  It takes willingness to tolerate discomfort.  It takes motivation to see through the patterns.  It takes the courage to actually see that we don’t want to see.  It also takes confidence that it is possible to get to the other side.

Yes, but what if under the discomfort of obsession lies mental illness?  There is no “other side” to mental illness.  There’s only bringing awareness to it and stripping back the distorted thinking.  Again and again and again.  Pulling off the black thoughts and flinging them away like leeches so the swelling and shrinking flood can be seen.

I see you, I say to the raging storm inside me.  Crying, I shut the book.  I walk into the TV room and watch HGTV with my friends.

The Church of Weight Loss

After three days of applying Bipolar Bad-Assness to food consumption, I feel pretty successful.  I’ve gotten back into the swing of recording everything I eat and keeping the calorie count somewhere around my goal.  I’m mindful that this can become a point of obsession, so I’m trying to stay loose and breathe.

I’m always and forever shocked at how small real portion sizes are.  I forget that the point of eating is not to get full, but to stop feeling hungry.  There’s a pile of food between those two states of being.

Wednesday, I went to the Line Dancing class at the Y for some additional fun exercise.  It was a hoot, but my back and feet felt my full tonnage.  Several of the women there are also in my water aerobics class, and invited me to come to their TOPS club (Take Off Pounds Sensibly).  I figured, what the hell.  I’ve tried Weight Watchers (three times), Overeaters Anonymous (twice), and more fad diets than you can shake a Snickers at, so I cast a gimlet eye at any “diet” program.  But, I’d sure like to have some warm-body support as I venture once again into the weight loss paradox.  So, I went.

The thirty-or-so ladies were very welcoming and friendly, but when I met the leader she said, “Don’t be skeptical!  You’ve got to have a POSITIVE attitude!”  Okay.  I found out the cost per year was a mere $26, with a weekly fee of $.75.  But then I started hearing about all the ways that weekly fee slides around—if you lose weight, if you gain weight, if you meet the weekly challenge (like drinking water with every meal) or don’t.  There were little plastic jars passed around the table for a variety of these charges that the women put their dimes and quarters into.

Then there was the Pledge.  I don’t remember the exact wording, but it said something about learning to control ones emotions around food.  A big, red klaxon went off in my head.  Telling someone with an eating disorder and a mental illness to “get ahold of yourself” works about as well as telling my cats to stop sleeping.  Another section of the Pledge said that even though we eat in private, the results are there for the world to see.  Great.  More guilt.  The guilt theme played out further when we went around the table so everyone could announce how much they’d gained or lost.  Yikes!

The whole experience seemed like a Revival Meeting—applause and cheers, “witnessing,” even a Doxology.  And, like church, there was great fellowship—notices about members who were ill or who had a death in the family, reports about members going to district or state meetings together, talk about who was getting together after the meeting for lunch.  I would have stayed for the fellowship, if I could have stomached the dogma.  But, no.

Just like church, I can’t enjoy the good stuff when I disagree with the underlying principles.  And just like I can’t seem to stop searching for a spiritual community, I can’t stop looking for a group to support my weight loss efforts.  Touching the Ground of Being and losing weight are really the same thing, after all.  They both require stillness and listening.  They both require inner archeological work and a level of surrender.  They both seek Grace.

In the meantime, I’ll review Geneen Roth’s eating guidelines.  They’re still the best I’ve come across.

  1. Eat when you’re hungry.
  2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment.
  3. Eat without distraction (TV, radio, books, etc.).
  4. Eat what your body wants.
  5. Eat until you’re satisfied.
  6. Eat with the intention of being in full view of others.
  7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto, and pleasure.

Feeding Frenzy

At some point in my childhood, I figured out that food could ease the immediate pain of my mood swings.  Not just any old tidbit, though.  It had to be  the good stuff—high fat, high sugar stuff.  I don’t know when self-medication turned into compulsion—early on, I think.  I’ve followed every diet, read every book on compulsive eating and food addiction, joined support groups, monitored, weighed and measured, looked for the psychological pain behind the eating, used willpower, relied on God and still when the Feeding Frenzy rises up out of the Swamp, I cannot stop it.

This winter I launched another effort to hamstring the monster.  I started keeping track of my calories in and out, I beefed up my routine at the Y to include some cardio and strength training along with my water aerobics classes.  I faithfully followed Geneen Roth’s Eating Guidelines in her book Women, Food and God.  I bought healthy groceries, prepared healthy meals, ate healthy snacks.  I bought Bob Greene’s book (he of Oprah fame), The Life You Want and Marianne Williamson’s book, A Course in Weight Loss.  I went to The Haven and faithfully worked through the books’ exercises with the hope that I’ll finally find The Answer.

Unfortunately, no-one has ever addressed the combination of food addiction and mental illness.  Sigh.  The most these authors will say is if you have a mental illness, get it treated.  Duh.  I was on medication, fellas, and gained another 100 pounds.  Medical treatment doesn’t seem to be The Answer, either.

So, okay, I can’t let that be an excuse for giving up on all the Paths to A Slimmer, Happier You promised in these books.  So what if no-one can explain why, when the Feeding Frenzy strikes, I would eat my cat if he had ice cream on his head.  So what if I can follow all the rules when Calm and Steady Mind is in residence, but when the depression moves in I jump in my car when it’s below zero and zip to Kwik Star for Cheetos and Ben & Jerry’s.

Something Marianne Williamson said in her book seems true for me.  All the self-knowledge in the world won’t fix this.

What’s left after self-knowledge, willpower and “good choices” is beyond Time/Space, or at least, it’s beyond my experience and the collective experience of experts in this field.  There has to be another way, a simple way, a solution so easy and profound I’ll laugh when I get to it.  I believe it has to do with alignment, but more than that, I don’t know.

So, while I explore, I’ll do what I can and be gentle with myself.  I’ll do all the right things when Calm and Steady Mind shows up, and I’ll do my best when it gets preempted.

And I’ll keep you posted.

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